What Is A Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN)?

"I have decided I am going to go to school for nursing, but I don’t know which type of nurse I should become. I was hoping to aim for registered nurse, but I don’t have a lot of money, and I saw a program for an "LVN" which was a lot less expensive at my community college, and not as long either. I was thinking I could complete that faster and start making money. But what is an LVN, and is it as good as an RN?"

asked by Lauren from New Orleans, LA

You can think of LVN as a step along the path to becoming an RN. LVN stands for “Licensed Vocational Nurse.” LVNs provide the most basic medical care, and represent the lowest level of nurses. If you become an LVN, your job will be fairly limited, but you will be playing an important role in the hospital, clinic, or other healthcare setting where you are employed.

LVNs may do a wide variety of duties. You may take the pulse and blood pressure of a patient, check the patient’s temperature, and take other basic readings and measurements. You might also be responsible for hygienic tasks like emptying bedpans, if you work at a hospital where patients are kept in-patient work.

As an LVN, there are a lot of medical tasks you cannot do, and you cannot work independently. Your salary will also be lower than that of a registered nurse, typically by about half.

Despite the limitations involved with becoming a Licensed Vocational Nurse, it may be a sensible career move in your situation. You said you do not have a lot of money to spend on school. LVN courses can often be completed in two years or less. Some classes take only a year to complete if you are attending school fulltime. At that point you can graduate, get a job as an LVN, and start making money right away. While your salary will not be that high, it will not be low either. You should make a reasonable living wage.

At that point, you can plan your advancement to the role of Registered Nurse, or even Nurse Practitioner. Some nurses do advance through on the job training and experience alone, but most go back to school. Check with the college you are thinking of attending; you may find that they offer a continuation program for LVNs who want to go on to become RNs.

These bridge programs are often accelerated and help new professionals to become more upwardly mobile. When you become a Registered Nurse, you will have many more opportunities for taking on responsibility and earning a substantially higher paycheck. If you go on to get an advanced degree, you can eventually become a Nurse Practitioner, and work independently without any supervision.

What you decide will depend on the specifics of your situation, but there are many ways you can choose to structure your education and career advancement in the medical field. If you do not mind doing some more tedious work to begin with, you may find that the role of LVN is a perfect springboard to your future.

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